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Somerset in strong position to fight back post pandemic

Somerset is well placed to adapt to a post pandemic business climate once the economy begins to pick-up, two leading business figures – Sir Ian Cheshire, chairman of Barclays UK and Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce – told local firms last week.

Speaking at an online ‘Future of Business 2021’ event hosted by Somerset Chamber of Commerce, they said while the pandemic had hit each industry sector in different ways, businesses that were nimble and agile and able to make changes were coping well.

“I remain optimistic about the future despite the dark days we are currently experiencing. Our Thriving Local Economies project in Taunton Deane is carrying on, despite the constraints of the pandemic,” Sir Ian (pictured on headline page) said.

“Some businesses have seen ten years of change land in just six months and in some cases that has been difficult, but others have seen it as an opportunity they hadn’t had before.

“Businesses that have been more online and more digital have been able to do extraordinary things to reinvent themselves and that is a real tribute to the SME community nationally and in this area.

“I think the opportunities for businesses coming out of this will be interesting and varied and potentially turbo-charged – people have found they can do much more and much more dynamically.”

Dr Marshall (pictured above) said the current stop-start restrictions and stop-start business support was causing companies real problems and said Government needed a coherent long-term economic plan.

He said firms were facing massive, short-term challenges, the biggest of which was cashflow.

He also questioned where the money would come from to help businesses which did survive the lockdown restrictions to re-establish themselves, maintain their companies and grow.

“Businesses are facing a significant capital crunch,” Dr Marshall said, “a lot of companies are running out of puff as the cash just isn’t there.

“But once we do get the economy up and going again, Somerset has advantages – it’s not dependent on one major city centre as a key part of its economy and then seen that key area of its economy shutdown, such as London, Glasgow, Leeds or Manchester.

“Town centres will restart but they will look different. Those areas where there is residential property, together with commercial and industrial property and amenities all within a 15 or 20 minutes radius, those are the places that will thrive. Somerset is lucky in that context. The county has a good starting point to build and become more resilient.”

Sir Ian said handing more power to local authorities was key to building resilience at a local level to enable companies to be flexible and to change and grow.

The online event was attended by representatives from local companies and Somerset Chamber Chief Executive, Stephen Henagulph, said he shared both Sir Ian’s and Dr Marshall’s optimism for the future.

Mr Henagulph added: “I don’t think we’re going to see lots of cash handed to businesses to help them adapt and change and there are concerns about what taxes will be imposed on businesses in the not-too-distant future to pay for the support they’ve had so far.

“But I am optimistic about the future and about the Chamber network. The Chamber has been a single point of contact throughout the pandemic and a true, independent voice for businesses, helping them to get the help they need and encouraging them to help others, working together to get to the other side of this economic crisis.”

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